The NFL is a pressure-packed environment with players fighting every day to keep their jobs and to win games. But some are under the gun more than others. Between now and the start of training camp well take a look at the players who are in the spotlight and under the most pressure to perform. Today its Brian Orakpo.When the Redskins took Brian Orakpo with the 13th pick in the 2009 NFL draft it was widely believed that they got a real steal. And with two Pro Bowl appearances and 28.5 sacks in three seasons they certainly have received solid value for the pick so far.But if the Redskins are going to get out of the basement of the NFC East and into consistent playoff contention they will need more out of Orakpo. They need him to move from being a solid player with great potential to being a great player, maybe even an elite player. Their 3-4 defense is built to pile up sacks and turnovers and it needs a star quality player at the right outside linebacker position to work to its potential.In Orakpos case, star quality would mean getting a dozen or more sacks every year. If those come, he will be getting plenty of pressures and hurries and drawing laundry piles of holding flags (he was among the NFL leaders in the latter category last year).Late last season, Jim Haslett was asked what Orakpo needed to do to take the next step. I think hes got to understand that no matter where he lines up, theyre going to have two guys on him, said the Redskins defensive coordinator. Either theyre going to chip him or theyre going to have two guys on him because theyre going to slide to him. And thats kind of way its been and he gets frustrated.Hes got to learn, like the other great rushers in the league, the Jared Allens or the Dwight Freeneys, theyre always going to have two guys on them. Hes not going to get around it and hes going to have to learn how to beat two guys.Haslet had some more tips for Orakpo. Hes going to have to learn how to work the edges a little bit more and be better under control a little bit more. I think thatll come. Hes targeted.The Redskins tried to make it so that Orakpo got targeted a little less by drafting Ryan Kerrigan in the first round. Kerrigan played well, getting 7.5 sacks after the team just got one from the left outside LB spot in 2010. But Kerrigans presence didnt help Orakpo much as his sack total went from 8.5 to 9.With an offseason of work under his belt now, it is hoped that Kerrigan will take the next step and make teams pay for giving Orakpo too much attention. If opposing offenses have to split their protection to try to devote extra resources to both outside linebackers, both Kerrigan and Orakpo will benefit.But the onus will fall on Orakpo. He is will be 26 this season and he has two years remaining on his rookie contract. Players who get double digit sacks year in and year out and can take over games when their teams need them two can make more money than players at just about any other position except quarterback.If he can shake the double teams and make the move from good to great the payoff will be huge for both Orakpo and the Redskins.Rich Tandler blogs about the Redskins at www.RealRedskins.com. You can reach him by email here and follow him on Twitter @Rich_Tandler.
Here is what you need to know on this Monday, February 20, 17 days before the March 9 start of NFL free agency.
—NFL Franchise tag deadline (3/1) 9
—NFL Combine (3/2) 10
—Redskins offseason workouts start (4/17) 56
—NFL Draft (4/27) 66
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 202
More free agency quick hitters
Ty Nsekhe not going anywhere There seems to be some confusion as to Ty Nsekhe’s free agent status. Some websites have him as a restricted free agent. But from what I can tell he will be an exclusive rights free agent. You need to have three accrued seasons to be a RFA. Nsekhe has two seasons from the last two years here but he came to the Redskins without any. He did appear in two games for the Rams in 2012 but he wasn’t on the roster long enough to accrue a season. This means that the Redskins will bring him back, probably on a one-year, minimum salary contract.
More Redskins: NFL Mock Draft 3.0
Thompson, Compton restricted The Redskins third-down back and Mike linebacker are restricted free agents as they each have three accrued seasons in Washington. The Redskins can tender them one-year contracts and then they can go out and solicit offer sheets that Washington would have an opportunity to match. RFA’s rarely end up changing teams so they both likely will be back.
Duke Ihenacho back? He played in 15 games at safety last year, starting 10. His play was competent in may respects but had the most missed tackles in the team, 15, despite being 10th on the team in snaps played. The coaches were reluctant to use him sometimes because he tended to freelance. Ihenacho will be an unrestricted free agent and I haven’t heard much talk about his status. That’s kind of unusual for a guy who started 10 games. If I had to guess I’d say he’s not going to return but that’s just a hunch.
Cousins to tag and sign? Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports said that he believes that Kirk Cousins will get the franchise tag by March 1 and then “I suspect Cousins has a long-term deal with Washington agreed to.” I’m not sure what will happen between March 1 and July 15 that would get the Redskins to make a better offer or that would get the Cousins camp to lower their demands. But July 15 deals do happen so we’ll see. I’ll stick with my belief that if a long-term deal is not done by March 1 it won’t get done at all.
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In case you missed it
- How many Redskins roster spots are up for grabs in 2017?
- Offseason questions: Can the Redskins trust Dustin Hopkins?
- How valuable is durability: Cousins vs Roethlisberger
The good news for the 2016 Redskins was that they didn’t collapse after winning the division the previous season as has been their pattern in the past. The bad news was that they didn’t take the next step and improve from a franchise that can compete to make the playoffs into one that is playing multiple postseason games year in and year out.
That work begins right now for Jay Gruden, Scot McCloughan and the players. In the coming weeks, Redskins reporters Rich Tandler and JP Finlay will examine the biggest questions facing the Redskins as another offseason gets rolling.
RELATED: #RedskinsTalk podcast: It's tag day
Can the Redskins trust Dustin Hopkins at kicker?
Finlay: Nick Novak. Graham Gano. Shaun Suisham. That's just a recent list of kickers the Redskins gave up on too early.
Dustin Hopkins missed a couple of important kicks in 2016, especially after a very strong start to the year, but with a powerful leg and a sharp mindset he should absolutely be the 'Skins kicker in 2017. In two seasons with Washington, Hopkins has made 84 percent of his field goals and 95 percent of his extra points. Don't forget he routinely puts kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks too.
Yes, Hopkins missed a game winner against the Bengals and other important kicks later in the year. That happened. Missed kicks are a part of life in the NFL. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed an extra point in the Super Bowl.
At 6-foot-2 and just 26 years old, Hopkins is young and athletic. Of 70 career field goal attempts, Hopkins has missed 11 times. Of the misses, six of them came from 50+ yards. In 31 games, Jay Gruden has proven he trusts Hopkins to attempt long kicks. The 'Skins would be well served to stick with the young kicker.
Finding a quarterback may be the most difficult, least scientific task that NFL organizations must undertake. Deciding when to let go of a struggling kicker is second.
There are plenty of strong legs out there spending hours every day kicking on high school fields in hopes of getting an NFL tryout. But being successful as a kicker is as much about what is above the shoulders as it is what’s below the waist. It appears Hopkins had a mental slump last year but he came back to finish strong.
Hopkins started the year making 14 of his first 15 field goal attempts, with the miss coming in the wind in Baltimore. But then in the dome in Detroit he just missed a 45-yard try and that set off a slump where he missed five of 15 field goal tries. He pulled it back together and missed just two of his final nine kicks, one of them a “why not” 57-yard try at the end of the first half against the Giants.
So, it was more of a slump than a bad year for Hopkins. He continued to pound the ball into the end zone, finishing tied for fourth in touchback percentage. I would understand if they brought in some competition for him during training camp but it will be a major upset if he is not the Week 1 kicker.
More offseason questions:
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